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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

34            Egypt an& the Byzantine Empire
and apparently moribund during the Roman period, awoke to
new life. The Egyptian peasant found in Christianity a voice
and a consciousness of his own worth which he had almost lost;
and the religious fanaticism which in former days had led to
rioting over the installation of an Apis bull or fierce feuds
between villages of different cults now found expression in
quarrels over nice questions of Christian theology or in the
murder of a pagan philosopher like Hypatia. The adoption of
the Greek script (with the addition of some characters taken
from demotic) for the writing of the native language was quickly
followed by the translation of the Scriptures into Coptic, the
latest form of Egyptian, and soon a whole literature mainly
translated from the Greek but containing also original com-
positions such as hymns, sermons, and lives of the Saints,
provided for the Egyptian-speaking classes reading matter
more congenial to their taste than the writers of Greek
paganism. The true language of the Egyptian (as distinct from
the Alexandrian) Church became in fact Coptic rather than
Greek.
This nationalist trend was accentuated by theological differ-
ences. The almost complete absence from Egypt of Hellenistic
city-foundations had given the bishops of Alexandria a pre-
ponderant position as against the bishops of the nome-capitals,
which until comparatively late had lacked municipal status.
The Melitian schism for a time threatened the authority of
St. Athanasius, but with the decline of the Melitians, soon after
the middle of the fourth century, into an insignificant sect the
unity of Egypt was restored, and patriarchs like Cyril or
Dioscorus could lead to the councils of the Church a solid
phalanx of bishops devoted to their cause. At the Council of
Chalcedon (A.D. 451) the monophysite dogma, which Dioscorus
defended, was condemned and Dioscorus himself deposed; but
the orthodox patriarch appointed in his place was murdered by
the populace after a brief term of office, and under his successor